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I started a quest to find terrific blues music and incredible musicianship when I was just a little kid. I also have a tremendous appreciation of fine musical instruments and equipment. One of my greatest joys all of my life was sharing my finds with my friends. I'm now publishing my journey. I hope that you come along!

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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Bman's Exclusive Interview - Sam Hooper

Bman: Hi Sam. Thanks for taking time out from your holiday to talk with me. I gotta tell you, I must live in a bubble! I picked up your recent release, " Sam Hooper Group - LIVE in Shanghai" and it blew me away! You have a musical expression of freedom that most people don't have. Have youheard that before?
Sam: Hi Bman, My pleasure.  Thanks so much.  I haven't heard it described that way before.  Part of what I think you're referring to comes from thefact that that live CD was recorded at the end of a gig at the same club where we'd just played six nights a week for five months straight.  During that time we'd grown a lot as musicians and as a band.  We'd also gotten comfortable enough with each other and with the music to get free and really stretch out.  Also, since we were only a trio, we each had to play bigger and fill in spaces that would normally be covered by other instruments to give us a fuller sound.  The freedom also comes from the fact that we had studied various styles.  We all met in Boston where we had come study at Berklee College of Music.  Jordan Scannella (bass) and Akira Nakamura (drums) are also very disciplined musicians who were always practicing so I had to bring my best to the table too.
 Bman: Well, you've done that! I don't regard you as purely a blues musician ... kind of like Hendrix. I mean, Jimi would be mortified to be classified as a blues musician! Not that he didn't like, and play the blues and have and acknowledge his roots in the blues, but his music transcended one genre. He was playing his music. His music had roots in the blues...but what doesn't! I see real parallels in the freedom that you exercise.
Sam: I love the blues, but I also love rock, funk, pop and many other styles.  I became known playing with popular blues bands in Boston before forming my own project and blues is a base of what we do.  I think our music moves from there while keeping that blues root or thread.  Hendrix is definitely a big influence!  The first Hendrix album I bought was Smash Hits.  There you had a broad range from "Foxy Lady" to "Red House" to the pretty ballad with "The Wind Cries Mary".  Led Zeppelin was another big influence and example of expressing that kind of freedom using rock, blues and folk music.
Our record label is FBJoy Records.  The FB is for Funky Blue.  Funky Blue Joy is a phrase I coined to describe the key elements in our music and also in life.  Our music is a mix of funk, blues and happy more pop music like "All Caught Up in Your Love" from my first CD.  Life can be funky blue when things aren't going so well and joyful when they are.  In the end it's a joy to be alive and experience the full breadth of life's emotions.  I hope people can find and relate to those different emotions in our music as well.

Bman: So tell me about what got you into this. Are you one of those guys that just walks around with a guitar strapped on all day?
Sam: These days it goes in phases.  I practice more when I'm preparing for a particular project or session or bringing a new tune into the repertoire.  I'm teaching now too so I get a chance to stay in touch with my sight reading.  In high school and college I had a more set, every day practice schedule.  I hope to get back to that in the coming year.  There's still so much to learn.
 I started with clarinet in the 4th grade and started guitar in junior high.  I played guitar in the high school and college jazz bands too. My sisters and I also had many piano and theory lessons while we were growing up.  One of my sisters still plays flute so we always play at family get-togethers and at church when we're home.
 Music was always the thing I studied that brought me the most joy.  I still love it so that's why I stick with it.

 Bman: It definitely shows. I see that you attended Berklee ( well as University of Miami School of Music. Strictly all guitar? Your improvisational skills are great!

 Sam:  Thanks.  I actually started as a combined music and business major at Wittenberg University in Springfield, OH.  I'm from Cleveland, OH and really wanted to go to Berklee first, but my dad felt I should go some where where they offered more than just music.  I transferred to U of Miami when I found out about their Music Merchandising program, one of the first music business programs in the country.  I earned a Bachelor of Music degree there and Music Merchandising was my major with guitar as my principal instrument.  The MM program taught me a lot about the music business, particularly publishing and copyright law.  As a guitarist there, you were required to study a year or two of classical before concentrating on jazz guitar.  It was a phenomenal environment, so much great music and many great musicians around all the time.  I attended a clinic with Andre Segovia and got to hear Pat Metheny just hanging out talking to a group of guitar players in the hallway.  Always great things going on.  And the weather was pretty awesome too!
 I've actually never felt that guitar alone was my ticket or my main contribution.  I see it as a strong part the package I bring to the table.  I sing, I write, I arrange, I entertain, etc.  If I had to pick one that would have the longest lasting over-reaching value, I think it would be songwriting.  That's why I finally did go to Berklee after getting my degree when Berklee started their Songwriting program.  Again, that was my major and guitar was my principal instrument.  They did not offer a Masters Degree so I got a 2-year Certificate for completing the Songwriting requirements.  Berklee was another super-charged, full-on musical environment.  I often describe it as a pressure cooker.  That's partly my doing because I was always involved in extra activities like songwriting contests or playing for production classes.  I stay in touch with many of the friends I made at Berklee and U of Miami.  They continue to be helpful in many steps in my career.

 Bman: Yeah, it sounds like you've had amazing exposure and also enjoyed your trip. That's the key! I have seen references made regarding Jimi and you. Typically when I see something like that it means someone is playing his songs or copying his licks but you really seem to have the creative freedom and spirit.

 Sam: People who've said that have usually seen me perform live.  I've copied licks from Jimi and a bunch of other people but I think it may be the passion that they connect too.  When things are really groovin' I to get  lost in it or become one with it.  I think it reminds some people of the way Jimi did that too.
Bman: I know that your music has been used on TV shows like "All of My Children" and "the Young and the Restless". I'm guessing that these are soundtracks made especially for the show as opposed to background music. I don't think that most fans realize how many musicians write for shows and movies. They just see them as their on stage persona. I mean I have seen Jeff Beck (group) in an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie  but playing a bar band and I think that we are all more accustomed to that and he also worked on a movie soundtrack (Frankies Houes) ... or using one of a bands popular songs as a song to track behind a scene in a movie. I even heard a Pixies song on a Microsoft commercial yesterday (played on an electric piano). But are yours more compositional soundtracks or your own performance tunes like the theme song for "Hung" by the Black Keys?

 Sam: Film and TV has become one of the best ways for artists to get exposure.  So far for me, they've been my own performance tunes.  The songs I had placed on those shows were recorded and put out on my first CD before I submitted them to the film/TV publisher.  The publisher felt certain she could get them placed and she did.  They played pretty much all of "I Won't Be Your Fool" as background music in a bar scene, like it was coming out of the jukebox.  On "The Young and the Restless," smaller sections of "Help Me Out of the Dark" were used kind of as a love theme several times whenever this particular couple was on screen together.  Getting one placed as the theme song for a show would be awesome!

 Bman: Yeah...that's pretty much immediate recognition. I can tell from listening to your music that you have a broad range of listening tastes. I think that is one of the things that makes your sound so unique and attractive. I also love a broad variety of musical styles.

 Sam:  Thanks.  Yep, there's so much great music out there.  I'm thankful that I'm able to enjoy a lot of styles.  My dad was really into country music and I'm digging a lot of that now.  He also bought me my first Wes Montgomery album which I still love.

 Bman: It's all good. How do the others members of your band influence your sound,  I mean they are all great players?

 Sam: More and more I try to play with badasses and they influence my by musically kicking my ass.  I have to kick right back because my strong suit may be a little different than theirs.  Then, voila, we find some really magical moments that we wouldn't have found without each other.  Jordan and Akira on the studio and live CDs recorded in Shanghai are perfect examples.  They've been ahead of me with their jazz chops and I bring my blues and funk roots to the table and my songwriting vision.  Thankfully, we just really clicked together and I feel like we created a fresh approach.

 Bman: What is your typical rig? I'm a gear head and I'm curious.

 Sam: Wow. It's continually evolving.  My main guitar for several years and the one on most of the tracks the last two CDs, East and Live in Shanghai was a Tom Anderson Hollow Classic.  I love the feel of the Tom Anderson Classic guitars and the quality and design make them a cut above any Fenders I've tried.  Little things like the two strap button options on the bottom for a great fit, the locking tuners that you could tighten with just a coin, the pull boost switch, balanced tone, versatility, and overall rock-solid reliability are what I love about them. You may notice a ballsier rocked out sound on a couple of tracks on the live CD and that's a PRS Custom 24 that I had a love/hate relationship with for many years. The live CD is just either of those guitars through a Fender Deluxe Reverb and the only pedal is a Radial ToneBone Classic.  I love the feel of Strat style bodies and discovered the beauty and power of solid alder a couple of years ago.  That led to finding my current main guitar which is a Lush.  It's based on a '60's Strat and is made by Erik Goehrisch in N. Hollywood who makes guitars for the Black Eyed Peas among others.  My current amp is an Ugly Amps "Whirley" made by another local guy Steve O'Boyle in Torrance.  I discovered Ugly amps at the LA Amp Show last year. Other fx I'm using these days are the Mad Professor Deep Blue Delay and Catalinbread Supercharged OD.  When we toured the Gulf Coast states this past summer I wanted to have a lot of sounds while keeping the footprint and travel weight down, so I just used a Boss ME70 with the ToneBone.

 Bman: With so much gear to choose from out there it allows you to have a sound all your own. Is there anything else that you'd like to share with your fans?

 Sam: Look for an updated website soon and a new CD in 2012.  Please "Like" us on Facebook and join the mailing list on the website so we can keep you up to date on what's going on.  Thanks for listening and for your support!

 Bman: Thanks again and good luck pal. I'm anxious to see what you come up with next!

Sam: Thank YOU Bman.  I really appreciate it!

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